The Bright Shinning Lie

Despite The New U.S. Holocaust Museum and 'Schindler's List,' The Holocaust Denial Movement Is More Visible Than Ever. How Dangerous Is It?
Published: 1994-04-14


A Holocaust denier who insists he is merely pursuing intellectual freedom found himself suddenly confronted by a Holocaust survivor in the audience of the Phil Donahue show last month.

It happened as Bradley Smith was telling Donahue and his national television audience that it was a "lie that Germans cooked Jews to make soap out of them." When history professor Michael Shwerner interjected to say "it was not a lie, it was a mistake," a woman in the front row yelled out, "It was true."

Smith turned to Donahue.

"Ask why they have taught this woman to believe Germans cooked [human] skin."

With that the woman rose and began shouting.

"I was seven months in Auschwitz ..."

"And you saw them making soap?" Smith asked.

"I lived as near the crematoriums as I am from you. I smelled — you would never eat roast chicken if you were there. ..."

"Let's get to the bottom of this," Smith persisted, never raising his voice. "You said soap and lampshades. Even the professor says you were mistaken."

"You know even the Germans admitted they made lampshades," she snapped back.

At this point, Donahue put his arm around the distraught woman and asked Smith, "Do you have any empathy at all? Are you concerned about the pain that you have caused this woman?"

"Why should we ignore the Germans who are accused of this despicable story?" Smith countered.

With that, the woman rolled up her left sleeve to show a numbered tattoo on her arm.

"I was seven months there," she shouted at Smith as the camera showed a closeup of her arm.

"So what? What has that got to do with soap? No soap. No lampshades. The professor says you're wrong."

"He's wrong," she insisted, as the show broke to a commercial.

Capitalizing on Attention

That Smith was involved in such a debate — on national TV in front of millions of viewers less than a month before this week's annual Holocaust memorial observance — is a measure of the visibility the revisionist movement has gained in recent months. Smith is one of a handful of Holocaust deniers — they call themselves Holocaust revisionists — who have been around for nearly 30 years but whose message has gained increased notoriety in the last year.

People are paying increasing attention, according to noted Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, because they are "reacting to something that has exploded on the national conscience — the Holocaust."

In the last year two major events concerning the Holocaust captured the public's imagination: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened in Washington a year ago and is still having a hard time meeting the demand for tickets, and the movie "Schindler's List," which walked off with virtually all of the top honors at the recent Academy Awards.

Smith, and others like him, are capitalizing on the attention. In the last four months alone Smith, who heads an organization called Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, has placed his Holocaust revisionist ads in 20 college newspapers; in the previous two years, he managed to place 16. Other national TV shows — including "60 Minutes" — have featured segments on revisionism, lending more visibility to a movement dismissed by reputable scholars around the world. And the Institute for Historical Review's publication, the Journal of Historical Review, whose articles fuel the movement, has now gone on-line through the Internet computer network.

Says Smith: "Revisionism has become part of the cultural landscape of America."

A Roper poll conducted last year may bear Smith out. When asked whether it was "possible" the Holocaust never happened, 22 percent of Americans said yes.

Assault on Survivors

When reached last week at his home in Visalia, Calif., Smith, who is 64, was still haunted by the confrontation on Donahue. Married and the father of two, he insists he is not an anti-Semite, that he is pursuing this cause for intellectual honesty and is troubled that blatant anti-Semites are using it for their own ends. He insists that the story of the soap and lampshades has been refuted by historians but spread by Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

"How is the ADL helping the Jewish community when it covers up these illegitimate stories that lend themselves to terrorizing Jewish children? This is what Jewish children are being taught now."

Not only is this lie being spread, Smith insists, but there is an even bigger lie being perpetrated on the public, one that undermines the magnitude of the Holocaust itself. He says the gas chambers and gas vans that supposedly killed millions of Jews are a total fabrication, and that as a result 200,000 or 300,000 — not 6 million — Jews were actually victims of the Holocaust.

It is a charge that Holocaust scholars refuse to debate because of its absurdity.

"There is more recorded documentation of genocide during the Holocaust than in the history of mankind," says Jeffrey Ross, director of the ADL's department of campus affairs and higher education.

Says the historian Hilberg: "There are 250 million people in this country, and if you include Europe and the rest of North America you have about 800 million. Are you surprised that somebody says there is no Holocaust? People say all kinds of things."

Hilberg insists the Holocaust deniers would have largely disappeared had they only been ignored. But neither historians nor survivors have been willing to bite their tongues. In one instance, Hilberg says, he had to step in and testify about the Holocaust when a Holocaust revisionist, Ernst Zundel of Toronto, was brought to trial. Two survivors had charged him with spreading false reports about the Holocaust. Zundel was convicted but an appeals court later overturned the verdict after declaring unconstitutional the law banning the spread of false reports.

"He [Zundel] would have been unknown and he would have been lost" had the survivors not made him a cause celebre, Hilberg says. "If you ignore them they starve, if you attack them they grow even more."

He adds that more recently an entire book by historian Deborah Lipstadt that attacked Holocaust revisionists and was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review section also contributed to giving them undue attention.

"The current spate of interviews [with Holocaust deniers] is mostly from Deborah's book," Hilberg says.

Lipstadt insists that well before her book appeared last June, Holocaust deniers were gaining attention, and that to attribute their notoriety now to her book and its coverage in a newspaper "is a little simplistic."

"I don't think I'm responsible for all of this attention. The Times put the book on their cover because its editors were perplexed by what was happening," she says.

Lipstadt maintains that the Holocaust museum and "Schindler's List" are "hurting the deniers' cause because it undermines and exposes them."

In a recent issue of New Republic, Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier says that the debate about Holocaust denial is not one between the "view" that it happened and the "view" that it did not. It is, he writes, "a war between truth and a disease."

But Hilberg says the revisionists "don't care whether they win or lose. When you attack them they become heavier and stronger because of all the publicity. It's just like those 'Star Trek' movies in which an alien life form is encountered and when they shoot lasers at it, it feeds on it and gets larger. That is the revisionist movement. I think it is completely wrong strategy to fire heavy artillery on mosquitoes."

Ideology Of Hate

Ross of the ADL says he is convinced the Holocaust deniers are "not crazies" but people with a political agenda who use sophisticated tactics.

"I see them as very dangerous," he says. "They have created an ideology that unites the hate movements in America and throughout the world. In the 1990s, Holocaust denial will be to anti-Semitism what anti-Zionism was to anti-Semitism in the 1980s. It is an expression of anti-Semitism to say you are not against Jews but the Holocaust.

"Their message is only on the surface about the Holocaust and history. Their message is to legitimate contemporary Nazism by posthumously rehabilitating historical Nazism. That's why it is not an accident that David Duke is a leading exponent of the Holocaust denial theory."

The ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, believes the real danger from the Holocaust deniers will come 20 and 30 years from now when Holocaust survivors will have died. It is a fear, Foxman says, that comes out of watching the Oliver Stone movie "JFK."

"I'm someone who lived through the Kennedy assassination," he says. "I know there are many questions about it, but when I see the Oliver Stone movie and how the whole country was preoccupied with theories that are astounding. ... What if 25 years from now someone makes a movie that's a twist on 'Schindler's List'? It could have an impact."

Holocaust deniers already have a budding filmmaker — David Cole, 23, a Jew. Smith says Cole is now working on a "documentary" film based on his trip to Auschwitz, in which he seeks to prove that it housed no gas chambers. (See accompanying story on Cole, page 28.)

"He is the ADL's worst nightmare because he's going to be around for another 50 years," says Smith with a laugh.

Foxman says the Holocaust deniers also call into question the credibility of the Jewish people.

"They say the Jews lied," he says. "They say that we lied about our own deaths. ... All you have to do is to repeat a lie often enough and 25 years from now people could believe it. You can't underestimate their danger."

The associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, points out that Holocaust denier Zundel has taken his message of hate to the airwaves, buying time on one satellite feed after the other. The half-hour programs he produces are not carried by any television stations but are seen by those with satellite dishes.

"Who are the people most likely to channel surf?" he asks rhetorically. "Kids."

Cooper says that each time the Wiesenthal Center learns that Zundel has bought satellite time, it works to get him off the air. And he says Zundel has also been buying time on local radio stations, including "the Grand Old Opry station in Nashville, WWCR."

"We developed a clergy panel that met with the station manager there," Cooper relates. "He was paying the station $265 a week to air his program. The station talked to its lawyers and said they would take the program off the air in four weeks and would run disclaimers until then. Zundel then offered to pay the station $52,000 a year — $1,000 a week — to run his show."

The station refused, but Cooper says he is now in discussions with another satellite company trying to convince it to pull the plug on Zundel.

"They are saying he has First Amendment rights [to freedom of speech]," says Cooper.

Target: College Campuses

That same argument has met with some success on college campuses, where Smith for the last three years has sought to place revisionist ads in college newspapers. He says he has sent his ads to between 100 and 150 college papers and that 36 have run them.

"I find it's twice as easy today to place these ads as it was when I first started," he says. "In the first two years I got 16 published, but in the last four months I got 20 published."

He suggests that one reason college papers are carrying his latest ad is that it raised specific questions about the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. His earlier ad outlined the group's beliefs that Jews are stifling debate about the "Holocaust story" and that students should be encouraged to investigate it, "the same way they are encouraged to investigate every other historical event."

The project director of the museum, Michael Berenbaum, says that for the few dollars the ads have cost Smith, he has amassed millions of dollars worth of publicity. Whether the ads have run or not, they have caused controversy on campus that has been picked up by the local and national media and thus accorded Smith even more attention.

In the last year the ad has run in campus newspapers at two schools with large Jewish populations — Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and Queens College. Those two events attracted national media attention. Time magazine devoted an entire page to the subject after the Brandeis ad appeared; "60 Minutes" carried a segment featuring Zundel and his message two weeks ago.

All of this attention could not please Smith more.

"I think the mice are running around like crazy in the background with '60 Minutes' one night and 'Donahue' the next," he says with glee.

Gloating Over Attention

At the Institute for Historical Review, which was founded in 1979 and is the primary force in the movement to deny the Holocaust, its executive director, Tom Marcellus, is gloating over all the attention.

"When we get talked about in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair and when they quote what we say rather than what Deborah Lipstadt says about us, it is getting to the point where people are actually taking us seriously," he says. "I'm pleased to see that; it's long overdue."

Marcellus says he was not happy that "60 Minutes" chose to spotlight Zundel rather than Mark Weber, whom he described as a "serious scholar." Weber is the publisher of the institute's bimonthly magazine, the Journal of Historical Review. Marcellus says that because Zundel is "involved in Nazi memorabilia," he presents a distorted view of their serious work.

Ross of the ADL said a founder of the institute, Willis Carto, helped to bankroll its operation. Carto is described by the ADL as the founder of the "anti-Jewish and extremist propaganda organization Liberty Lobby."

But Marcellus says Carto never gave the organization any money. And he notes that Carto's relationship with the institute was "terminated" last year because of an internal dispute. He insists that it had nothing to do with a fight over the money left to the institute's parent organization, Legion for the Survival of Freedom, by the granddaughter of Thomas A. Edison, Jean Farrell.

Ross says he understands that Farrell left the institute $10 million but Marcellus denies that, saying only that it was a "fairly small amount."

There have been about 20 books published that espouse Holocaust revisionism, Smith says, of which only about a dozen are serious works. But he says the movement is primarily based on the research published in the Journal of Historical Review, now in its 13th year of publication.

In the last year, Smith said a 22-year-old follower, Daniel Gannon of Portland, Ore., has begun putting all of the Holocaust revisionist articles from the magazine onto the Internet for anyone to access and read without charge.

"He's putting it into the bulletin board system all over western Europe and the United States," says Smith. "By typing in a few keys on your computer, you can get access to 13 years of revisionist research."

Asked if their work is dangerous, the ADL's Foxman, himself a survivor of the Holocaust, replies: "Is it going to kill somebody? Probably not. But it's killing people who have already been killed."

Copyright © 1994, The Jewish Week.

Copyright © 1994, SoftLine Information Inc., all right reserved.

Title: The Bright Shinning Lie: Despite The New U.S. Holocaust Museum and 'Schindler's List,' The Holocaust Denial Movement Is More Visible Than Ever. How Dangerous Is It?
Summary: A Holocaust denier who insists he is merely pursuing intellectual freedom found himself suddenly confronted by a Holocaust survivor in the audience of the Phil Donahue show last month.
Source: Jewish Week, The; Ethnic News Watch
Date: 14-APR-1994
Regular Price: $3.00
Subscriber's Price: $3.00
Document Size: Medium (3 to 7 pages)
Document ID: GG19970829050012335
Citation Information: V. 206; N. 49; p. 24
Author(s): Ain, Stewart
Document Type: Article

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Stewart Ain
Title: The Bright Shinning Lie, Despite The New U.S. Holocaust Museum and 'Schindler's List,' The Holocaust Denial Movement Is More Visible Than Ever. How Dangerous Is It?
Sources: The Jewish Week, V. 206; N. 49; p. 24
Published: 1994-04-14
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1996, 7 p.m.
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